Beavers and Trees

At first sight seeing a beaver teeth-on a red oak almost as wide as the beaver is long seems like a joke.

Until you come back a few weeks later. As I write now, the red oak pictured above is only half girdled. This is what the beavers did to a neighboring oak

Beavers can do a number on trees, as this grove of poplars found out.

Beavers can live without trees. They can burrow into mud banks and make a lodge without logs and branches. They can make a dam of mud, rocks and grass. They can live off roots and plants. Witness this beaver placidly joining a deer to eat pond vegetation in the golden glow of the setting sun.

But most beavers prefer to live with trees. They are equipped to harvest them and use them for lodges, dams and food. But, to many people's frustration, they only use the inner bark, the cambium layer, for food.

But they never eat the whole thing, leaving huge trees dead on the ground, or completely girdled, dead standing.

The felling of a tree excites a primal anxiety in humans. Very likely a tree was our first ancestral home to climb into and hang around. A tree remains our symbol of stability, longevity and continuity. We all place ourselves in our family tree. In a tree we see knowledge and the embodiment of good. To wantonly bring a tree down to earth is one of our ideas of evil. We don't enjoy having the glorious crown of a sugar maple brought down to our level by a beaver.

To be sure humans have cut more trees than beavers, but generally we go about it in an orderly fashion for good reasons, and try to restore trees as best we can. To most humans beavers seem to cut far more trees than they need for their dams, lodges and belly.

Many books about beavers give the encouraging impression that beavers prefer softwoods like aspen and willow. Indeed some books suggest that when those trees are gone beavers will move on. That's true in part. But the truth of the matter is that they are likely to move back, and dispatch ash, red oak, white oak, cherry, ironwood, hophornbeam, elm, bitternut hickory, shagbark hickory, cedar, and pine. Tree lovers, enjoy the panel below:

As puzzling as the beavers apparent waste of trees, is the apparent waste of time in felling them. Many times I have seen two cuts when one would do the trick:

At times beavers leave evidence not of foraging but of demonic obsession with gnawing on trees:

Of course, I am being unfair to the beaver, and humans in general are unfair to them. To begin with what we generally scorn, they adore. Have you ever seen a human deal this intently with a twig:

We can't get over the huge trunks left lying and ungnawed, and don't appreciate the hundreds of little sticks lovingly devoured by the beavers:

And most of the branches are used both for food and to make lodges and dams:

And while I will admit that the beavers leave many trunks under utilized, some are completely stripped of bark:


Go to the next page for photos of a beaver cutting down a tree: trees2.html


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